Russian Navy

Northern Fleet protecting Russian Arctic

Source:, author: RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik. Photo:

Before the 20th century, the Arctic was a relatively peaceful region. The Russian Navy deployed its first permanent detachment there shortly before World War I when construction of the sprawling Romanov-on-Murman seaport, subsequently renamed as Murmansk, got underway.

The port received numerous Allied convoys delivering war materiel and other consignments to Russia.

The Soviet Navy's Northern Flotilla, reinstated in 1933, initially comprised coast guard ships, escort ships and destroyers, mainly patrolling Soviet territorial waters and the exclusive Arctic economic zone.

The Northern Fleet steadily expanded, receiving additional weapons, combat equipment and coastal defense units. When Nazi Germany invaded the U.S.S.R. on June 22, 1941, the fleet went to war together with the entire nation.

In 1942 and 1943, several destroyers and submarines were re-deployed to the Arctic theater of war, with the Allies delivering numerous small warships and fast attack boats to the Northern Fleet under the Lend-Lease Act.

In 1944, the Northern Fleet received the British battleship Royal Sovereign (renamed as the Arkhangelsk) and the U.S. light cruiser Milwaukee (renamed as the Murmansk) in lieu of war reparations from Italy.

Allied convoys sailing from the United Kingdom and Iceland to Murmansk and Arkhangelsk were escorted by large U.S. and British forces stationed at Northern Fleet bases. The British battleship Duke of York arrived in Vaenga Bay in the Kola Inlet after contributing to the sinking of the German battleship Scharnhorst on December 25-26, 1943.

On September 15, 1944, British Avro Lancaster bombers took off from a temporary base at Yagodnik, near Arkhangelsk in the Soviet Union, attacked the German battleship Tirpitz in Norway and made her unseaworthy. However, this air strike, called "Operation Paravane," did not sink the Tirpitz.

On November 12, 1944, "Operation Catechism" involving other Lancasters was launched from Scotland. This time, the Tirpitz was sunk within minutes of the attack. (Editor's note)

The Soviet Northern Fleet, British and U.S. forces escorted convoys sailing to Russia and back. Attack boats, submarines and strike aircraft repeatedly hit German transport ships off the Norwegian coast, while Soviet Navy fighters shielded fleet bases and Murmansk together with Air Defense Force warplanes.

After the war, the Northern Fleet found itself on the frontlines of the Cold War. With the advent of strategic bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Arctic theater of war became the shortest route between the U.S.S.R. and the United States. Consequently, the generals of major powers shifted their gaze to the region.

The Northern Fleet received the first Soviet nuclear-powered submarines, including ballistic missile submarines, and was among the first naval formations to adopt long-range bombers with anti-ship missiles.

The fleet zone of operations comprised the White, Barents, Norwegian, Kara and other Arctic seas, as well as the entire Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. By the early 1980s, the Northern Fleet became the largest and most powerful Soviet naval formation.

Despite all-out warship and submarine cutbacks, the Northern Fleet still packs a more devastating punch than any other Russian fleet. It operates Russia's only aircraft carrier, the world's only nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser and the largest destroyer and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) ship units.

The fleet still relies heavily on its nuclear-powered submarines, most of which are being regularly overhauled. Six Project 667 BDRM Delta IV Delfin ballistic missile submarines form the mainstay of Russia's strategic naval nuclear force. Most of the submarines have been equipped with upgraded Sineva submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and will remain in service for another 15-20 years.

The Northern Fleet remains on active combat duty, as long as these submarines sail beneath the ice all the way to the North Pole where the spectacular Aurora Borealis or Aurora Polaris ("Northern Lights") natural phenomenon originates and from where their missiles can reach 90% of the world's main economic centers.

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